Tax-exempt code prohibits political endorsements

As this year’s general election approaches, the Synod’s tax and compliance director is reminding congregations and Synod entities that any efforts to “educate voters” must comply with tax-code requirements concerning political-campaign activities.
 
Karen Sansone, director of the Tax and Compliance Section of the Synod’s Accounting Department noted that the federal tax code “absolutely prohibits churches and other religious organizations from endorsing or opposing any candidate for public office.”
 
Whether a particular activity constitutes prohibited political activity depends on the circumstances in each case, she said.  For example, organizations may sponsor debates or forums to educate voters, but such an event may not show a preference for or against a particular candidate.
 
Sansone said that the political-activity prohibition does not restrict the free expression by pastors and other leaders who speak for themselves.  But those who commonly speak or write on behalf of the tax-exempt entity must clearly indicate, at the time they do so, that their public comments in connection with political campaigns are strictly personal and not on behalf of the organization they represent.
 
Partisan comments by employees or representatives of synodical organizations aimed at political candidates must never be made in official organization publications or at official church functions.
 
Sansone warned that the congregation or Synod entity could lose its tax-exempt status and/or be assessed an excise tax if the Internal Revenue Service finds it violating this prohibition.  And, she added, contributions to organizations that lose their tax-exempt status are not deductible by donors for federal income tax purposes.
 
For more information, see IRS Publication 1828, “Tax Guide for Churches and Religious Organizations.”  This and other information about the political campaign prohibition is available at www.irs.gov.

Posted Aug. 26, 2004

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